Tuesday, July 7, 2015

This Thing Called Millenialism

Sunday, I preached from Revelation 20.   In the second part of the message, I looked at two images.

1) Satan being bound and shut in a pit for a thousand years.

2) Worshipers of Jesus who reign with Christ for those thousand years.

What is most important about this passage is that Satan is portrayed as a limited and ultimately defeated foe and that the the worshipers of Jesus are portrayed as a blessed, active, and victorious (yet persecuted) people.

A question that emerges from this passage is what time period (symbolic or literal) is the thousand years (millennium) in Revelation 20 referring to?  Three positions have become most prominent over the years, but perhaps one pastor friend I know has the best position which he refers to as "pan-millennialism."  In his words, its all going to "pan out in the end." I think Jesus' teachings were meant to promote a similar trust in us when we think about the end times.

With that said, the things we can learn from exploring this concept of a one thousand year time period in Revelation 20 further yield knowledge that is helpful to us in learning to live like Jesus in our world.  It is with this end in mind that I will briefly present my view of the three positions - premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillenialism.

In this view, the millennium (one thousands years) will follow Jesus’ second coming.  This view places the binding of Satan and the victorious reign of the church on earth in the future, after Jesus returns as he promised.

The strength of this view is that it helps to interpret more literally some of the Old Testament messianic promises of the Messiah establishing an earthly kingdom that ushers in an era of peace and prosperity in the world.  I personally feel that most, if not all, of those Old Testament passages are fulfilled through the church as God's people reign on earth in the authority of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit OR through Jesus' inauguration of the new heave and earth in Revelation 21.

The weakness of this view is that it hard to reconcile with Jesus' clear and extensive teaching (especially Matthew 24-25, Mark 13) that his second coming will be sudden, decisive, and cosmic in scale AND that it would be followed immediatetly by the final judgment.  Premillennialism can also allow for a broader view of Satan's activity and power since he is yet to be bound. 

In this view, we are either currently in the symbolic millennium or soon to enter a symbolic/literal millennium as all the nations of the earth are reached with the gospel. This view sees the church as enjoying a great period of peace, prosperity and triumph (the one thousand years) before Jesus returns.

The strength of this view is that it embraces Jesus' and Paul's teachings that the church has been given authority by God to reign in this life and to see the gospel taken to every tribe, tongue, and nations.  It envisions a victorious church that is presently experiencing the blessing and victory that Revelation 20:4-6 describes.

The weakness of this view is that it does not allow much room for the intensification of satan-inspired activity that the repetitive cycles throughout Revelation reveal and that Jesus himself taught about.  For example, this view is hard to reconcile with Jesus' words in Matthew 24:12 that, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold."  Postmillennialism can lead to a triumphalism that does not help the church persevere well through the suffering, hardships, and persecution that Jesus and the apostles taught it would experience.

Amillennial (Greek: a- "no" + millennialism)
This view understands the millennium to be a symbolic time period that represents the reign of Christ through his church from the time of the Apostles until Jesus returns.  In this view, Satan has been bound by the triumph of Christ at the cross and resurrection so that people from every tribe and nation may come to know Jesus.

One of the strengths of this view is that it allows people to embrace the view of both a church that is ruling and reigning through the authority of Christ but is also facing suffering and difficulties.  It views Satan as bound but  leaves room for the continued activity of Satan from the pit (Revelation 9:1-11) and on the earth immediately before Christ returns (Revelation 20:7-10).  It avoids the triumphalism of the postmillennial view by understanding that, while Satan has been bound and his activity has been curtailed and limited, the church will still face difficulty and distress before Jesus returns.

A weakness of amillennialism is that it does not allow for you to interpret some Old Testament passages and much of Revelation either literally or chronologically.  (However, I personally doubt that some of those prophetic and apocalyptic writings in the Bible are meant to be understood in that way. We are to understand numbers and images such as one thousand years, 666, a pit, and a dragon as representative of real realities but symbolic in and of themselves.)

It's corresponding strength is that amillennialism does make room for the symbolism and repetition that is found throughout Revelation and other parts of the Bible.

Lastly, I find myself most comfortable with an amillennial view because I find that it reconciles well with the rest of the New Testament's teaching (especially those of Jesus) on the end times.  When I read Jesus' teachings, it seems clear to me that Jesus taught that before he returned the gospel would go to every nation AND his followers would experience intense persecution and trouble (Matthew 24).  He also described his return as a decisive event that would usher in both the passing away of this world as we know it and the inauguration of a new heaven and earth rather than an introduction to a literal thousand year rule as premillennialism does.

Thus, I feel the amillennial view fits Jesus' own words and instructions well, and I believe that as a follower of Jesus who is seeking to live like Jesus in our world that this is what is most important.

Questions to Ponder
1) How do these views line up with Jesus' own teachings and instructions on the end times?  Read Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13 to start.

2) How might each of these views effect how you live for Jesus now?  Why?

3) Do you feel it is necessary to embrace a particular view?  What can be learned and applied from each view by someone who is seeking to live like Jesus?  How could you apply that in your own life?

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